Our Sony Xperia T review: 007, we have some new equipment for you
These days, movies cost a lot of money so it’s not uncommon for them to have some promotional product tie-ins. While this can make a movie seem like a commercial, there’s usually a line between what’s acceptable and what isn’t. For example, it would be a sham if Gandalf used a AT&T phone to call Frodo in the Lord of the Rings movie.
Then we have the Sony Xperia T. The phone of choice for James Bond in the new Skyfall flick. If I were to guess what kind of phone James Bond actually uses my guess is that it would be something waterproof, but then again, the T’s a slick device - I could see him using one.
Spec-wise the T is similar to the Galaxy S III and HTC One X (the LTE versions). Dual-core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB RAM, 16GB built-in storage plus a Micro SD slot, 1850mAh battery, 4.6” LCD display and 12.8/1.3MP cameras. It also supports Mira-cast (video out via WiFi).
It ships with Android 4.0 which is a little bit disappoint since 4.1 phones like the Note II, HTC One X+ are starting to become available while 4.2 is now available for Nexus devices. Sony has said that the T will get a Jellybean upgrade next year. While Sony often gets slammed for shipping their phones with older versions of Android they’ve also been pretty good about supporting their users. The X10 from 2 years ago shipped with Android 1.6, it eventually got a 2.1 and then a 2.3 upgrade. 1.6 to 2.3 represents 4 versions of Android which isn’t bad. While I don’t expect that the T will receive this level of support I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony released one more update after Jellybean. Mind you, Sony hasn’t said anything about this, it’s just my hunch.
I wonder why the T is the James Bond phone. Why it wasn’t called something like the Xperia Q or the Xperia JB (James Bond). Of course, if it were called the Xperia JB people may think that it comes with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
The screen measures 4.55” and has a resolution of 1280x720. It’s extremely bright and does very well outdoors in direct sunlight. It blows phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III away in this regard. The T is the first Sony Android phone that I have used that has a screen auto-brightness setting. I’ve used many, many Sony and Sony Ericsson Android phones and the T is the first one that has this feature. It actually works well too.
The auto-brightness is a welcome addition because the T’s bright display can be blinding at night.
The display looks good but it has a very narrow viewing angle. Colours start to shift after you tilt the T around 10 degrees in any direction. This makes the T a poor choice if you’re showing a picture to a bunch of people (I’m a father, I do this ALL the time). It also found it annoying when I have it on the table and I’m eating.
Speaker, flash, camera
power, volume, camera buttons
microUSB and microSD slots
Compared to the GS3 and One X the Xperia T feels a lot smaller. I love the style of the T, It easily the best looking Xperia since the original X1 from a few years back. It doesn’t just look good, it has a metal back that has a really slick paint job. Its grainy and rough so its much more usable than the Xperia ION’s slippery finish.
left to right: LG Optimus G, Apple iPhone 5, Sony Xperia T, Samsung Galaxy S III
top to bottom: Apple iPhone 5, Sony Xperia T, LG Optimus G, Samsung Galaxy S III
Sony has done a good job of making the T easier to use with one hand. The curves on the back, and the on-screen buttons really make the T very compact. I’m actually able to reach across the screen with my thumb without touching the screen with my palm. That’s good design!
While it feel nice I couldn't help noticing that the lines on the T don’t quite line up. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not but if you look from the side, the curve is interrupted when it reaches the top and bottom part of the phone. Also, no matter how much I play around with the SIM card and micro SD slot cover off I can never get it to fit perfectly flush.
Still, the T does a really good job of helping me forget all the hard plastics they used on most of their phones over the past few years. The T has a sense of occasion that you don’t find on a lot of phones.
One oddity is that the power button is located halfway down the right side. The volume buttons and camera shutter buttons are located below it. This confused me at first but after I got used to it it actually makes a lot of sense. When I hold the T with one hand my thumb rests on the power button. However, after using it some more I found myself accidentally adjusting the volume whenever I pick up the T. I guess it’s something owners will get used to eventually.
If Sony is going to play around with the button placement, they should make the buttons stick out, be stiffer and have a more positive feel when they’re pressed..
There’s a camera shutter button on the right. When the T’s screen is off you can capture a photo in just over a second by pressing and holding the shutter button. While it’s able to get the picture very quickly, I’ve found the focus quality to be hit-and-miss.
There’s a 13mp camera on the back that captures 50% more pixels than most of the T’s competitors. While it’s capable of taking good pictures most of the time I find it doesn’t. First off, it focuses a little slower than I’m used to.
Image quality is a mixed bag. Outdoors the T can take pretty good pictures. However, when you throw something more difficult like indoor photography, mixed lighting, moving subjects or night photography. While all camera phones will blow out some details in mixed lighting conditions I found that the T tended to do this more. It also tends to over-expose pictures which exaggerates this.
It struggles if your subject isn’t static. Compared with say the Galaxy Note II and iPhone 4s and 5 I get a lot more blurry pictures with the T.
I don’t like the Xperia T names photos sequentially like DSC_0001, DSC_0002, etc. I much prefer how Samsung names their photos with the date and time. It’s annoying if you ever hard reset the phone.
I’m extremely disappointed that you can’t take pictures while shooting video at the same time. This feature is common on ALL the T’s competitors. Even Motorola and LG (which traditionally are weak in the camera department) have this feature. There’s also no burst mode.
Video quality is similar to image quality. It ends to blow out details when you have a strong lighting source. I also found that the T would sometimes hunt for focus - even in situations which aren’t that dark. It remind me of the Windows Phone 7 camera software in this regard. Audio capture is pretty good.
I’m pretty sure Sony puts a 13mp camera sensor in the T to make it stand out, the problem is that the T’s camera just isn’t very good. While I wouldn’t say it’s terrible, it’s not a well-rounded camera.
I like the Sony keyboard. It has good spacing plus it’s customizable and I found the auto-correct to be very intuitive. I was able to type quickly on right away. While I like the auto-correct I didn’t like how it would insist on auto-correcting a word that I tried to fix by hitting backspace. Still, probably a case of me being used to my iPhone keyboard. You can always tap the word and choose from a list of suggestions. I prefer the default Sony keyboard to the default Samsung one.
It also lets you form words by moving your finger from letter to letter on the keyboard much like SWYPE.
Last year, I found that Sony was really cutting down on the amount of customizations they were making to Android. While the T isn’t a bloated mess, it contains a couple more customizations than last year’s phones.
While you still get Sony’s Timescape social media aggregator there is now a custom Album app which I’ve noticed has been added to other recent Sony phones when they received their Ice Cream Sandwich update. It allows you to pinch-zoom when you’re viewing your thumbnails (very nice).
When you’re viewing your pictures there’s a link to send your pictures to a compatible DLNA device (Sony calls it ‘flinging’). I like how you can view your pictures on a map. You can also view pictures stored on a DLNA server from the Album app.
In addition to photos stored on the T and on DLNA servers you can also view ones that are stored on your Picasa and Facebook accounts.
One really smart customization is the task switcher. Not only does it look better than the default ICS switcher but Sony added some shortcuts to certain useful utilities without it taking up much space or it getting in the way. You can use it to quickly launch the calculator, set a timer, jot down a note or record your voice.
Sony calls them small apps. They stay on top of other apps and can be moved around the screen sort of like the pop up video player and browser on the Galaxy Note II. You can only have one small app on-screen at a time. So, if you have one open and launch a new one the new one will replace the existing one. You can download more small apps from the Play Store. I checked the Play Store and currently there are 4 other small apps available for download: Mirror (uses the front-facing camera), a unit converter, currency converter and a browser.
Sony really plays up the multimedia side of their phones. It’s only natural I suppose since Sony is known for making TV’s and Playstations. So, I’m very annoyed that the T doesn’t support 720p mkv files. LG and Samsung support them out of the box you’d think Sony would too. I guess Sony is also known as a content owner so maybe they think there’s no such thing as a legit 720p mkv.
Speaking of multimedia, Sony is really making a push with their Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited and PlayStation Mobile services. Music Unlimited is a music subscription service. Video unlimited is just a video store where you can rent or purchase videos. Playstation Mobile is basically software which is required to run certain games.
While the T has them installed by default Music and Video unlimited will also work on other Android phones, your Playstation and PC’s. Music Unlimited is also available for iOS. Playstation Mobile is available for a variety of Sony phones plus a handful of HTC ones.
I’m a little surprised that Sony doesn't have these apps installed by default! while there are icons for them, clicking them just takes you to the a webpage which extols the virtues of them and then gives you a link to the Play Store. If you don’t plan on ever using them you can actually uninstall the icons via the apps menu in settings. It’s a shame you can’t do the same with some of the carrier installed apps.
There’s a useful backup app that you can use to backup your phone. Make sure you store your backup on a microSD
Sony Select is just an app with programs that Sony recommends. Clicking the apps will send you to Sony’s app store.
The headphone jack sounds exactly like the one in the Sony ION. It sounds decent. While it’s definitely not underpowered it’s not insanely loud (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
While I normally use SunSpider as one of my cross-platform browser performance benchmarks, I’ve decided to give PeaceMaker from Futuremark a try instead. Like SunSpider it’s cross-platform so we can compared Apples to Androids but it’s bit more comprehensive.
Peacemaker benchmark (higher is better): Apple iPhone 5 807 Samsung Galaxy Note II 749 LG Optimus G 505 Sony Xperia T 502 Motorola RAZR HD LTE (chrome) 500 Samsung Galaxy S III 476
The Xperia T does well here. It manages to beat the GS3 and RAZR even though they both have the same processor as the T.
Vellamo is a suite of browser benchmarks. It’s only available on Android so we’re only able to compare the T with other Android phones here.
HTML 5 (higher is better): Samsung Galaxy Note II 1841 Sony Xperia T 1786 LG Optimus G 1713 Samsung Galaxy S III 1630 Motorola RAZR HD LTE 1632 HTC One X (Tegra 3) 1608
The T does very well here outscoring all phones save for the Galaxy Note II. If you’re wondering how the T manages to outscore the Optimus G (which essentially has twice as many cores as the T), most of the time Vellamo only uses 2 cores.
Metal (higher is better): LG Optimus G 643 Samsung Galaxy Note II 628 Samsung Galaxy S III 580 Sony Xperia T 567 Motorola RAZR HD LTE 553 HTC One X (Tegra 3) 492
Here the T slides in the middle between the GS3 and RAZR HD.
GL Benchmark 2.5 (higher is better):
LG Optimus G 4221 Motorola RAZR HD LTE 2504 Sony Xperia T 2431 Samsung Galaxy S III 2335 Samsung Galaxy Note II 1960 HTC One X (Tegra 3) 1650
The T turns in a respectable result here in GL Benchmark. Note that the T, GS3 and RAZR all have the same GPU so it’s no surprise that they all have similar scores here.
Unfortunately GL Benchmark won’t run on my T anymore. I’m not sure why because it ran fine at first. I’m going to do a hard reset soon at which point I’ll try to run my battery test.
I noticed that if you leave the screen at maximum brightness the T burns through it’s battery faster than green snake up a sugar cane. One of the prices to pay for the T’s trim profile is a smaller than average battery. While the RAZR HD LTE has a 2530mAh and the GS3 rocks a 2100mAh the T’s battery weighs in at only 1850mAh. While, it’s good that Sony finally put auto-brightness in, I doubt anyone’s going to be able to make it through the day with the T unless they’re a really light user.
As a phone:
Incoming sound quality is acceptable. It’s slightly rough sounding (that’s normal) but there’s a lot of background hiss. You probably won’t notice the hiss when you’re out but it’s quite noticeable when you’re somewhere quiet.
Maximum earpiece volume is relatively loud. It’s very similar to my iPhone 5 in this regard.
While it’s not that quiet it’s not as loud as my iPhone 5’s built-in speaker nor does it sound as good.
I compared the T’s RF performance with the RAZR HD LTE and found that the RAZR was slightly better at hanging onto and using a weak LTE signal.
After a year and a half of mid-range phones the Xperia T represents another step for Sony as they claw their way back to the high-end. Still, I’m disappointed that they’re bringing out the T now just as it’s hardware moves from high-end to upper-midrange. That said, the T’s a very tactile phone. It’s nice to hold and feels nice in my hands. The software is thoughtful and it’s pleasant to use. These days, we’ve reached a level where a phone’s processor doesn’t make or break it.
Galaxy S III:
Compared to the Galaxy S III the Xperia’s screen is much more usable outdoors though it lacks the GS3’s viewing angles. While I liked the small apps on the Xperia I prefer the GS3’s software. Both have microSD slots so they’re pretty flexible in that department. The GS3’s dim screen and bigger battery life equal better battery life. The GS3’s 2GB of RAM makes multi-tasking a breeze though the T does alright here too.
It's a tough call, on paper the GS3's the better phone but the Xperia is just a much nicer phone to hold and touch. It's one of those things were a phone is more than the sum of its parts. Mr Bond (actually the producers) made a good choice.
Great review Howard, thanks! I read that the weight of the Xperia T is heavy. How does it compare to the S3 in terms of weight wise? Since the RAZR HD LTE didn't work out for me. I will check out the Xperia T when the stores gets them in. I have the SE k790a James Bond phone. I could add this to the collection!
I can upgrade now and for once in my life, I really want a current phone. Since it looks like Sprint isn't getting any WP8 phones anytime soon, I've been thinking about getting one of these since we have AT&T’s 4GLTE in New York. I really want to test out these 4G LTE speeds for transmitting my graphics design work.